In the world of safe entertainment by means of sequels of popular films, some brands do better than others. Let's admit from the outset that the first Fantastic Four movie while certainly fun, was not--- well... fantastic. And the same can be said of the second one, though I found it a bit better than its prequel. There is the problem that the persons playing Reed Richards and Sue Storm, are just too young, particularly for the role of Richard. Johnny Storm in the comic books was considerably younger than them. Not so in the movie versions. And the Fantastic Four does indeed maintain its basic cast in tact with the second movie. We even get a second dose of Victor von Doom no less. The problem of course with making movies out of long running comic books is which stories do you pick to tell, and do you blend a bunch of different stories or episodes into one full length movie? The latter approach is taken in the second Fantastic Four film, and so we have both the rise of the Silver Surfer, and the wedding of Reed and Sue, and von Doom's return thrown in for good measure, all with the approval of Stan Lee, who once more appears in a cameo in this movie as well-- being on the wedding guest list (or not).
This film is based on several different struggles-- some micro, some macro. Yes there is an intergalactic entity threatening to destroy the whole world of which the Silver Surfer is but the harbinger, but there is also the struggle of Reed and Sue who would like to stop saving the world long enough to have a normal family and a normal life, maybe even children. This is of course a problem for super heroes, because the world seems to constantly need them or at least the world created in the comic books does. This is a strange premise, since the world actually doesn't have any such mere mortals with super powers, and we are nonetheless still here and plugging along. And this brings us to an interesting point that differentiates the Marvel stories, however marvelous, from Evan Almighty. The latter is actually about the relationship of very ordinary mortals (without super powers) to God. The former is about exalted versions of ourselves and how we could save the world if we could just be smart enough to give ourselves more exalted powers. The former comes closer to idolatry, the latter to doxology.
Nevertheless, the Fantastic Four movie is appealing in some respects. Johnny is still wreckless, the Thing is still wrecking things, ole Stretcho is still a bright but nerdy character who can't dance, but he sure can be the rubberband man, and Sue is well, the invisible member of the team. Too bad since she is the best looking one. It is interesting and odd that in this film an alien, the Silver Surfer, a man from a different world, with a super-powered surf board surfing the galaxies (o.k. suspend your disbelieve for a minute-- this makes surfing the web look like child's play) proves to produce the most pathos and exhibit the most human qualities in this movie. Indeed, at the end he becomes something of Christ figure sacrificing himself, going up against the powers and principalities for others not even of his race. The movie has its usual thrills and spills and CG effects, and there is nothing here offensive enough to warn off families from seeing it, but there is a question of what is the message of this film. That we need some super heroes to solve our big problems? That there is no God out there to help us, so we had better sup up our own abilities? It's hard to tell.
Less puzzling is Evan Almighty. As sequels go, I can't really imagine a further sequel to this one. Though this movie has been panned by a wide array of critics, I quite enjoyed it and Steve Carell is certainly charming from first to last as the newly minted Congressman Baxter, who vows to change the world, and as it turns out, in ways he could not have expected. The premise of this movie is the gradual spiritual awakening of a Congressman who is about to get sucked into support the raping of some of our National Park land for development purposes. Not surprisingly the wild animals won't stand for it-- indeed one could say they are leading the stampede against it. John Goodman plays the scheming Senator Long, and Wanda Sykes is comic relief as the secretary to Congressman Baxter. And of course Morgan Freeman replays his role as God-- and very effectively.
In perhaps the one profound divine speech in the whole movie God asks the Congressman-- do I make you courageous, or do I provide you with opportunities to be courageous? Good question. Is God's role in our lives to make us all we ought to be, or rather to enable us and provide us with the opportunities to be our best selves? There something to be said for choosing the latter answer. Is God a cosmic bellhop, or does God actually expect us to play our part in the divine plan? I think it is the latter. The other especially interesting feature to this latter day Noah reprise of a story is that God tells us that the flood story is not primarily a story about God judging the world. Rather it is a story about God's love for us-- he does not desire anyone to perish. So it tells the tale of how God rescued those who would be rescued. This is certainly an interesting reading of Gen. 6-9. The flood was a redemptive-judgment. It redeemed those who were willing to be redeemed, and the same flood waters that helped Noah and his family rise above the catastrophe judged the rest. But there is something else to both the original and this retelling of the Noah story, something about harmony between animals and human beings-- that we are all in the same boat, all God's creatures great and small and God wants all to be saved. God informs the Congressman near the end that ARK in fact stands for Acts of Random Kindness. Alrighty then.
In the movie version there are of course various humorous scenes with the animals, who actually help to build the ark. There are hilarious scenes of Steve Carell constantly growing hair, and of his interactions with the animals, even within his office on Capitol Hill. Those animals keep following him around and pestering him until he finally relents and builds the ark. And of yes, there is also the message in this film that you need to spend more quality time with your family. Poor Mrs. Noah-- she could hardly have realized what she was getting herself in for when she married the man.
Both of these movies are about an hour and a half, which is perfect for small kids, and there is certainly nothing in "Evan Almighty" to take offense at-- its just good clean summer fun. Not profound, but fun, and not offensive either. Even the trailer with everyone dancing is funny. So enjoy-- but don't expect great revelations.